A better way to pick the best team in baseball.

A mathematician's guide to the news.
Oct. 29 2004 7:21 AM

Building a Better World Series

Why the Fall Classic isn't the best way to find the best team in baseball.

(Continued from Page 1)

Red Sox 4-0    9.2 percent
Red Sox 4-1    16.5 percent
Red Sox 4-2    18.5 percent
Red Sox 4-3    16.7 percent
Cards 4-3       13.6 percent
Cards 4-2       12.4 percent
Cards 4-1        9 percent
Cards 4-0        4.1 percent

So, the better team, the Red Sox, will win 60.8 percent of the time. The Series has a 13.3 percent chance of ending in 4 games; the chance that it goes 5, 6, or 7 games is 25.5 percent, 30.9 percent, and 30.3 percent respectively. So, the expected length of the real World Series is

4 x .133 + 5 x .255 + 6 x .309 + 7 x .303

or 5.78 games. The corresponding numbers for the Alternate World Series are a 61.4 percent chance that the better team will win, with an expected length of 5.72 games. And the AWS isn't just better when we arbitrarily set p equal to .55. The AWS is both shorter and more accurate than the real World Series if one of the teams has a 60 percent chance or a 65 percent chance of winning each game. In fact, the AWS is better on both criteria for whatever reasonable value we choose for p. (I say "reasonable" because this statement fails when p is close to 0 or 1, e.g., if one team has only a 5 percent chance of beating the other in each game. It seems safe to say that there's never been a World Series in which the teams were this badly mismatched.)

Advertisement

The Alternate World Series has some other appealing features besides its efficiency and accuracy. Unlike the best-of-seven model, but like tennis, a team at the brink of elimination can buy itself some breathing room with a win. One potential problem with the new system is that it might give an advantage to teams with two powerful starters who could dominate the first two games, giving them the chance to close out the Series in three games without ever exposing the weakest part of its starting rotation. On the other hand, a series that goes to eight or nine games might reward a team with a deeper pitching staff.

Tradition has a value of its own, so I couldn't blame baseball for sticking with the tried-and-true World Series format despite the advantages of the AWS. But maybe another league, perhaps one that has already changed playoff systems a few times and is desperately in need of some positive PR, would be willing to try something new. Stanley Cup Finals Game 9, here we come!

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Buy a Small Business
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 PM Inking the Deal Why tattoo parlors are a great small-business bet.
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?